Pie made from dried scallops and lantana flowers.

Noma Sydney

As we entered Noma (Sydney) for lunch yesterday, there was a real sense of “showbiz”. As we were shown to our table, the four of us were greeted by probably twenty or thirty staff. “Hello, hello, welcome”. Having lived all my life in Australia, I often feel cynical about such displays of hospitality. Though such displays often feel contrived, this seemed to me very genuine. Over the next two and half to three hours, as we enjoyed our meals, and chatted with the staff, it became pretty obvious the staff were, too, lovers of fine food.

Though I’ve visited Copenhagen a few times, I’ve never been to Noma. Their seasons are always sold out weeks/months in advance. But I have read about Noma, and its reputation as a world class restaurant. In particular, I’ve been interested in the work done by the chef and co-owner, René Redzepi in re-inventing Nordic cuisine, and by his innovative use of unusual/interesting ingredients. When they announced a ten week season in Sydney, I was certainly interested, though not confident I’d be lucky enough to secure a seat/table. There are still 27,000 people (or something like that) on the waiting list. Thanks to the perseverance of Damien (running a couple of computers simultaneously) we were lucky enough to secure a table. And so yesterday, after months of anticipation, four of us sat down and enjoyed a remarkable lunch.

From the opener (macadamia in a spanner crab broth) to the closer (a fresh take on bon bons), everything was a surprise and a delight. There were many highlights. For me, they included the “dumpling” of marron and magpie goose (eat it like a taco), the sea urchin with tomatoes and berries, and the marinated fresh fruit (which included teaming up watermelon with a very bitter native plum). There were thirteen courses in all, and absolutely no sense of “I’m still hungry, let’s get some Maccas on the way home”.

Another particular highlight for me was the deep sea snow crab served in a sauce of egg yolk and fermented kangaroo. Though I’ve eaten crab all my life, I’ve never had crab like this before. The particular crab we were served lives in such deep waters that they’re actually white. There’s little/no lite where they live in waters off the continental shelf. We learned an awful lot about crab, actually, as we got chatting with a lovely family from Western Australia, who actually supplied the crab for the restaurant. “René came for dinner one night”, we were told, as we began to better understand how the team from Noma had spent several months/weeks/days travelling around Australia sourcing ingredients, and then developing the uniquely Australian meals. “A world class chef comes to your place for dinner. Pressure much?, I joked.

That was one of the great things about the afternoon: the shared experience. After the meal, the opportunity to meet the family from WA made it all the more enjoyable, as they too share a love of food. Around the rest of the room, I noticed other people were similarly making friends.

I’ve been a little sick over the last week, and so chose not to have the matched wines (shock! horror!) but Damien, Kristen and Glenn did, and they all said they were all very well-matched. They were also, I think, natural wines, meaning there were without preservatives. Though I do love wine, I equally enjoyed the meal, I think, without drinking.

As each meal was served the staff explained in detail (without too much detail) the meal, and seemed really happy to answer our many, many questions :) They definitely earned their keep :)

“I’ve tried to explain this to people at work, spending so much money on lunch but they just didn’t understand”, one of us said, “Noma”. For the last few months I’ve been feeling lots of “Catholic Guilt” about this also. The “guilt” comes from the fact that I’m a working class boy from a small country town in Australia. The money I spent on LUNCH would feed whole families in some parts of the world for weeks, if not months. In my own mind, I balanced it out because I do contribute a fair bit of money to a couple of charities which help people around the world.

But how do you explain spending so much money on a lunch to your colleagues/ friends/ family who live equally “first world lifestyles”? According to my friend, you ask them how much money they’ve recently spent on a rock concert. Many people in Australia (and other “first world nations”) will routinely spend several hundred dollars on a ticket to a rock concert. Personally, I spent three or four hundred dollars to see Bette Midler and Liza Minelli. I know a few people who spent over seven hundred dollars to see Barbra Streisand. So my perspective on this is simple: it was like the greatest rock concert of all time (for food), and we got to meet and chat (at length) with the star.

DSC_2567

Dinner at Aria

A few months ago I was lucky enough to be on a table that won the “Lucky Door Prize” for a dinner at Sydney’s Aria Restaurant. Along with ten others, I enjoyed a wonderful night this evening of great company, great conversations, delicious food and wine, and great views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. Though the servings look small, they were very filling and very, very enjoyable. We were treated to matched wines chosen by the son of one of our hosts. We also had a visit to our table by the restaurant’s owner, Matt Moran. Feeling very, very fortunate/privileged tonight, so I thought I’d share a few of the lovely photographs I took. Very grateful.

The Paddington

The Paddington

“We were the oldest people there”, I said to my friend as we left The Paddington last night. “No, there were some other oldies there”, she argued. Yes, she was right, but overwhelmingly The Paddington attracted a hip and happening younger crowd. And no wonder, it’s the latest Sydney hotel to be “Hemmesphied”. Justin Hemmes has had a terrific record in transforming bars into terrific new spaces. And it’s my feeling he’s done another great job.

“You really must go”, I told a colleague this morning. “For $50 each, we shared a bottle of wine, a whole chicken, salad and chips. It was delicious, and there was chicken left over”, I added.

We were lucky enough to be given a quieter spot overlooking the main serving area, as it was a reasonably noisy space. In part, because it was so damn busy. It was nine o’clock on a wet Wednesday night in Sydney, and the place was jumping. Highly recommended.

Vini at Surry Hills

Vini at Surry Hills

 

“You know I’m going to bring my good camera and take lots of photographs?”, I said to a friend over a few drinks late this afternoon. Often described as one of the best in the world, the Copenhagen-based restaurant, Noma is doing a limited-season “pop up” in Sydney. Excitingly, four of us have obtained tickets for a lunch in February at the embarrassingly expensive, though presumably memorable experience.

“Just eat the bloody food, and stop taking terrible photographs and posting them on Facebook/Instagram”, I’m sure must be how restauranters sometimes feel about the modern phenomenon where people pull out their camera phones and take photographs of their food. Camera phone photographs can never be as good as the as the beautiful images captured by a food stylist. In darkly-lit restaurants, the photographs are often grainy, and almost never capture the subtle colours of a beautifully crafted meal. And yet, people still take them. It’s all about capturing the moment.

And yet that’s precisely what I did when some colleagues and I enjoyed lunch today at Vini in Surry Hills. “Hang on a minute”, I said to my colleagues before they began to eat, “I just want to take some photographs”, I said, as I pulled out my phone, with the intention of sharing them here tonight.

Photographs like these never capture how good a meal can be. Seriously yummy food, and possibly the best pannacotta I’ve ever tasted. Yum.

Baccomatto Osteria

Friends and Food

The original plan involved dinner with visiting friends on Friday night. But thanks to a Jetstar cancellation of their flight from the NSW North Coast, our dinner was postponed twenty four hours. I made a “don’t fly with Jetstar” resolution earlier this year, I told my friend. Too many cancelled flights, too many “rules”, and not enough care for the customers, in my view. A friend in Tasmania told me via email she loathed Jetstar for precisely those reasons. And besides, for most of the flights where I’d have to choose between Virgin and Jetstar, Virgin is generally about the same price, and offers a better service.

So yeah, the plan was to catch up with an old school friend (we’ve known each other since we were both thirteen), his partner, and another old school friend of ours for dinner. My school friend and his partner were coming to Sydney for a wedding. We thought about heading off to Nomad again, but the restaurant was booked out, with only late bookings an option. So instead, we decided on Baccomatto Osteria, an Italian restaurant on Riley Street, Surry Hills.

And what a good choice it was. The food was excellent and the waiter we had was brilliant. She was friendly, very knowledgeable and passionate about the food, and, as it turned out, has a NSW North Coast connection, via family in Mullumbimby. Though at times the restaurant was a little noisy, we really enjoyed it, and I would definitely go back there. Highly recommended.

Walking back to Surry Hills, we popped into Messina for the obligatory “Surry Hills gelato experience”, and enjoyed our ice-cream in the nearby park. And, as my friends are cheese-makers, we also popped in to take in what was on offer at the nearby Maloney’s Grocery store to see what was on offer. The night was capped off with a cup of tea. A terrific Saturday night with great friends and great food.

Fratelli Fresh

Eating Out and Early Nights

Even though I didn’t really have any plans for the day, I ended up going out for both lunch and dinner. “Feel like having lunch tomorrow?”, a friend texted me last night. And then earlier today, there was another text, “Feel like an early dinner?”. I don’t think I was a “second choice date”, I just think friends are finding themselves in the same position as me when it comes to planning their social lives.

The thing about getting older (I think) is that you no longer have the “need” to plan a big night out on Friday and Saturday with your friends. The “need” to organise dinner parties, restaurants and the like disappears with age, I think. You’re just as happy to go out for dinner during the week and spend your Friday or Saturday night at home. I still like going out on a Sunday night, though. I will often go out for dinner on a Sunday night, as I think it “expands the weekend” just that little bit further.

So for lunch today, it was dumplings and noodles in Chinatown, and then tonight it was pork belly, pasta, and brussel sprout salad at Cafe Sopra/Fratelli Fresh in Kings Cross. In both cases the meals were terrific. I especially loved the simplicity of the pork belly (pictured). Tasty, and not too many flavours.

After a late lunch, and then an afternoon nap, I caught up with a friend for dinner tonight at 6.30. By about 8.45, we had finished dinner and were headed home. She needs to be up early tomorrow for surf club control, and I just like getting up early these days. 5.30, 6.00, suits me fine. Though I sometimes sleep in on the weekends. Maybe I’ll get up early and take some photographs of Sculpture By The Sea. Either way, it was nice to be out and about before the Saturday night crowds. “I can be home in bed by ten”, I told my friend. I never quite made it, as you’ll see from the posting time of this blog-post, but I DO enjoy a much quieter Saturday night than the ones I might have enjoyed twenty years ago.

Centennial Hotel

Centennial Hotel

When it became fairly obvious there was absolutely no chance of NSW recovering in the State of Origin decider, people began leaving the pub. By the time the game was over, it was pretty much us, and nobody else.

The SSO wasn’t the drawcard for us to go to the Centennial Hotel in Woollahra: the drawcard was the chef, Justin North (formerly Becasse etc) and the offer of a $28 meal if we dined before 6.30pm. For $28 you get a main course, a side, and some ice-cream at the end. Though I’m sure lots of people “upgrade” we were more than happy with the offer.

As you’ll see the meals look good, and are of a good size. And tasty. I had the barramundi which was excellent. For some odd reason we all chose the same side meal: sprouts with bacon which was also excellent. At the end, the ice-cream was a simple scoop of home made ice-cream with butterscotch. The atmosphere and service were also very good. So all in all, a really good way to spend the night.

Afterwards we had a few more glasses of wine, and then a couple of beers, and chatted, and watched the dying minutes of the SOO. That was the only bad thing about the evening.